According to a story in Monday’s Raleigh Public Record, the new policy allows private non-profits to manage the trapping, sterilization, and vaccination of community cats.
And, in what was apparently an eleventh-hour victory, TNR supporters (led, as I understand it, by SPCA of Wake County) won additional protections for these cats. “The county will not be able to trap such cats simply for roaming at-large,” notes the paper.
“People can report the clipped-ear feral cats as nuisances and the county can still trap them for euthanasia. However, the county will contact the TNR group to attempt to find a resolution, the new policy states.” 
Lives Lost and Lives Saved
Regardless of how many cats are “euthanized” by the county under the new plan, there’s little doubt that many hundreds—thousands, perhaps—will be saved. According to the Public Record, the county-run shelter killed 4,830 of the 7,766 cats it took in between summer 2010 and 2011, for an abysmal 37.8 percent live-release rate.
(Approximately 2,900 of the cats killed were considered feral—though, of course, such determinations are notoriously difficult to make with any certainty. Interestingly, if none of these cats had entered the shelter, the shelter’s live-release would have doubled to 75 percent.)
Despite all the killing, though, Wake County hasn’t seen a decrease in “the number of calls regarding feral cats to county animal control,” notes the paper, “which has lead to the search for new options.” 
That’s becoming a common refrain.
Last year, Volusia County, FL, undertook a similar search and also settled on TNR. According to a story in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the county’s two municipal shelters killed 83 percent of the 32,974 cats taken in between 2008 and 2010. The county’s Animal Control Advisory Board estimated that each intake cost residents $87. 
Two years earlier, Athens, GA, adopted TNR following a fierce debate of the issue.  (The whole thing having been prompted, ironically, by former Smithsonian researcher Nico Dauphine and her frequent roundups of neighborhood cats.)
These communities aren’t the only ones for which lethal control methods have failed. In a 2008 interview with Animal Sheltering, Mark Kumpf, former president of the National Animal Control Association, compared the trap-and-kill approach to “bailing the ocean with a thimble.”
“There’s no department that I’m aware of that has enough money in their budget to simply practice the old capture-and-euthanize policy; nature just keeps having more kittens.” 
While it seems clear that Wake County’s new policy will be good for the lives of the area’s cats, some are suggesting it may put human lives in jeopardy.
“The major downside to the plan discussed during the law’s fine-tuning was,” reports the Public Record, “public health. Aside from rabies, feral cats can expose people to salmonella and parasites and a bite or scratch can cause tetanus or cat scratch disease.” 
If these are truly risks (and, as I’ve pointed out previously, the public health threat argument is scaremongering more than anything else), they are risks that (1) are already present, (2) have been allowed to persist—even worsen—due to the admitted ineffectiveness of the trap-and-kill approach (where’s the accountability for that, by the way?), and (3) will diminish as the population of cats is sterilized and vaccinated.
Or, to put it another way: if the risk to public health is the “major downside to the plan,” then it’s virtually all upside.
A progress report is due to the Wake County commission in three years.
1. Huntsberry, W. (2012, June 4). Trap-Neuter-Return for Feral Cats is Official. Raleigh Public Record, from http://www.raleighpublicrecord.org/news/2012/06/04/trap-neuter-return-for-feral-cats-is-official/
2. Hobson, W. (2011, February 26). Feral cats cost Volusia residents $2.8 million, study says. Daytona Beach News-Journal, from http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/local/east-volusia/2011/02/26/feral-cats-cost-volusia-residents-28-million-study-says.html.
3. Aued, B. (2010, March 3). TNR approved in 9-1 vote. Athens Banner-Herald, from http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/030310/new_569880708.shtml.
4. Hettinger, J., “Taking a Broader View of Cats in the Community.” Animal Sheltering. 2008. September/October. p. 8–9. http://www.animalsheltering.org/resources/magazine/sep_oct_2008/taking_a_broader_view_of_cats.html